By Satyaki Chakraborty
Nicaragua, a small nation of Latin America is going for the Presidential polls on November 7 this year amidst threats of more sanctions by the United States and the protests by the opposition parties and the civil society activists against the curbs imposed by the Daniel Ortega government on normal democratic activities.
The coming polls have already drawn international attention and more than 180 international observers are set to monitor next Sunday’s elections. Representatives from Europe, Russia, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries will form delegations to oversee the polls.
More than 4.4 million voters are registered in the elections and the voting will take place for the President, Vice-President, 90 lawmakers and 20 representatives to the Parliament. The incumbent president Daniel Ortega of the left wing Sandinista National Liberation Front is contesting for the fourth time So far indications suggest that Ortega will win convincingly and his party colleagues will also have a sweep in the accompanying positions. But there are concerns, even among the other left wing elements that President Ortega is resorting to strong arm tactics and he is curbing the functioning of those who are opposed to him.
President Daniel Ortega, on the other hand accused the US agencies of trying to destabilise his government and encouraging the opposition forces to create instability in the country. “It is every country’s right to defend its peace and sovereignty,” he said. “That is what we will do, in accordance with United Nations Charter. “The Nicaraguan people are the only ones responsible to resolve their problems.”
The US has a long history of intervention in Nicaragua, waging a devastating war against the democratically elected Sandinista government via the illegal funding of Contra death squads. It pumped millions of dollars into opposition groups, openly backing the eventual victor of the 1990 presidential elections, Violeta Chamorro, having promised to end the Contra war and economic blockade if she won.
The US has imposed a raft of punitive sanctions on Nicaragua while funding a range of opposition media organisations, NGOs and political figures, as well as supporting a failed coup attempt in 2018. Washington insists that the Nicaraguan authorities have been waging an authoritarian crackdown after the arrest of a number of high-profile opposition figures. Those arrested are accused of serious crimes, including money laundering and advising the US on how to undermine the Sandinista government, including lobbying for sanctions. What is worrying is that the Biden administration is working with international partners to prepare new sanctions that could be levied in response to Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 election, which Washington has denounced as a sham organized by President Daniel Ortega, U.S. officials say.
The U.S. government has also begun a review of Nicaragua’s participation in a Central America free trade agreement and has already halted support for any “trade capacity building” activities seen as benefiting Ortega’s government, a senior State Department official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. President Joe Biden’s administration, building on sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, has imposed punitive financial measures and U.S. travel bans on dozens of Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega family members, amid a government crackdown ahead of the election.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement last week that Ortega, who is seeking a fourth term, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, were “preparing a sham election devoid of credibility, by silencing and arresting opponents.”
Ortega said on the other hand that sanctions would not deter him and his government was following the law in prosecuting people conspiring against him. He accused Washington in July of trying to undermine the elections and seeking to “again sow terrorism” in Nicaragua, an apparent reference to U.S. financing of right-wing “Contra” fighters in the 1980s. “We’ll continue to use diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to promote accountability for those who support the Ortega regime’s human rights abuses and attacks on Nicaraguan democracy,” the State Department official said.
The European Union has matched some U.S. sanctions but it is unclear how far the EU and regional governments are prepared to go to pressure Ortega. He has steadily tightened his grip on the Central American nation he has dominated since returning to power 15 years ago. The military is with President Ortega and earlier attempts of the US agencies to encourage division in army, have not succeeded.
Still uncertain is whether the U.S. administration is considering directly targeting Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader. Murillo, considered by U.S. officials to be a major powerbroker, is already under sanctions.
The Biden administration spearheaded a resolution last week by the Organization of American States that expressed “alarm” over the Nicaraguan government’s actions. Since June alone, Ortega’s government has arrested dozens of opposition politicians, including presidential hopefuls, suspended a rival party and also cracked down on media critical of his rule. Washington is also looking for ways to squeeze Ortega’s government financially.
U.S. officials have warned that Nicaragua’s membership in the CAFTA-DR regional trade agreement, which gives preferential treatment to Central American exports to the United States, could be in jeopardy if Ortega rigs the elections in his favor. There is an air of confrontation and the Nicaraguan citizens are apprehensive at the developments if U.S finally enforces strict sanctions. Half of the Nicaraguan exports go to US market and right now, Nicaraguan economy is facing a lot of problems. (IPA Service)